25 February 2014

Romans 11:25-36

“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” (v. 32)


In the final section of Paul's lengthy argument in Romans chapters 9-11, Paul shares a "mystery" (v. 25) with his readers, a mystery that answers the question of God's purposes for Israel.

Paul's key assertion is that "all Israel will be saved" (v. 26), but the interpretation of this text is notoriously disputed. While some commentators argue that Paul sees Israel as saved through the promises of God (apart from faith in Jesus), and others contend that "all Israel" includes Gentile (non Jewish) Christians, most commentators believe that Paul is pointing to an end-time miracle whereby Israel embraces the Messiah. Since Israel remains "beloved" for the sake of her ancestors (v. 28) and the promises of God cannot be broken, the temporary 'disobedience' of the nation will end with God showing mercy (verse 30). In the end, God's mercy will triumph over human unbelief.

In verses 26-27 Paul supports his claim with a citation from Isaiah (Isaiah 59:20-21) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:33), which depicts the "Deliverer" coming from Zion, and taking away the sins of "Jacob". Since the "gift ... and the calling of God are irrevocable" (v. 29), God will be faithful to the promises God has made. Just as Gentiles have received mercy while disobedient, so too will Israel. For Paul, such a pattern shows that "God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all" (v. 32). God's mercy is over all!

The passage ends with a doxology - a passage of praise in which God's wisdom and judgement are glorified (verses 33-36). Paul draws here from the Old Testament (Isaiah 40:13, Job 41:11). God's ways can sometimes be "inscrutable" (v. 33), and all we can do is bow in wonder and praise at a God to whom all glory belongs.

To Ponder

  • Why do you think Paul stresses the place of 'Israel' in God's plans?  
  • In what ways have you experienced God 'showing mercy' to you?
  • What role does doxology - or praising God - play in your prayer life? 

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the discipleship development officer for the Methodist Church, a role that involves developing and promoting a range of resources to help Christians grow as followers of Jesus. His previous experience includes working as evangelism, spirituality and discipleship officer at Methodist Church House, lecturing in New Testament Studies at Birmingham Christian College, and working as associate leader of B1, a 'fresh expression' of church in Birmingham.